Col. Robert Morgan flew 25 daylight missions over Nazi Germany and France and led the first B-29 raid on Tokyo, yet his claim to fame lies in a fetching piece of artwork and a snappy nickname painted on the nose of his plane. Morgan was the pilot of the Memphis Belle , and publicity from William Wyler’s 1944 documentary of that name about Morgan’s devotion to Margaret Polk, his Tennessee sweetheart, proved invaluable for the war effort and inescapable for Morgan and Polk. In The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle (Dutton, $25.95), Morgan recalls how he survived —though his engagement to Polk did not—the multiple stresses of war and a public courtship.
E. M. Halliday was a senior editor at this magazine in 1972, when he was instrumental in publishing Fawn M. Brodie’s inquiry into whether Thomas Jefferson had an affair with his slave Sally Hemings. It was far and away the most controversial article American Heritage had ever run, and the depth of the response it-elicited helped set Halliday to a thoughtful and thorough study of Jefferson’s personality that has now yielded a book that in every way lives up to its title. Understanding Thomas Jefferson (HarperCollins, $25.00) is shrewd, engrossing, respectful but clear-eyed, and deeply knowledgeable, and its author, in the words of Stephen E. Ambrose, “writes almost as well as his subject did.”
Al Alvarez, a seasoned poker player, reveals the ins and outs of that most American of card games in Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats (Chronicle Books, $29.95), which meanders through poker’s history, rules, language, variations, and big winners. Alvarez invokes his own experiences and those of true card sharks to show that poker’s importance extends beyond its long history and colorful reputation. Poker, he argues, is “the only game fit for a grown man.” Or as a pair of authors quoted by Alvarez put it more bluntly, “Gambling is a child’s vice practiced largely by adults.”
Virtually every page of Richmond’s Monument Avenue (University of North Carolina Press, $39.95) gives evidence of how the Confederate capital’s statue-lined thoroughfare has reflected changes in Richmond, and in the South as a whole, since its conception in the 1880s. The contrast between the 1890 monument to Robert E. Lee, uniform-clad and sternly erect atop Traveller, and the 1996 Arthur Ashe, in casual sweats and surrounded by children, is one example. Almost as jarring, though, is a World War I photograph in which the grassy lawn around Lee has been replanted with a crop deemed essential to the war effort: tobacco.
The best of John Steele Gordon’s “The Business of America” columns, which have graced the pages of American Heritage for the last 10 years, have now been collected in The Business of America (Walker & Company, $26.00).